Forests have been termed by environmentalists as the cradles of life-giving water and are responsible for 50% of our rainfall. According to studies, an acre and a half of rainforest is lost every second, a tragedy considering that they sequester 80% more carbon than temperate forests and produce plentiful oxygen. Deforestation and habitat loss is displacing animals to a catastrophic degree. In several Indian states, leopards, wild deer and even elephants are trapped between nervous and agitated crowds. But who is really the intruder here? The casualty is devastating and animals like the peacock and Blue Bull that once roamed free today feature on its national cull-list.
The Western Ghats of India, famed for its wild beauty, supplies all the rivers in the planes, as well as Bengaluru with water. Sadly, today the region has less than 16% of forest cover which is linked directly with our changing climate. This tale follows a unique sanctuary that is India’s first ever private forest ecosystem, located in Kodagu, Karnataka. SAI Sanctuary was conceived to help preserve and expand forest cover, thereby giving wildlife natural shelter. The approximately 300-acre sanctuary today is teeming with species thought extinct, while also improving the health of the region.
If nature had a specific call, one could say Pamela Gale Malhotra has known it since childhood. Pamela and her husband Anil Malhotra left behind a private forest sanctuary in Hawaii and moved to the Himalayan region where local land ceiling laws disallowed them from making a large sanctuary. It was a gold-mine when Anil Malhotra found 55 acres of abandoned plantation land in Kodagu and has since helped rehabilitate landless labourers, wild animals, and retrieved encroached forested government land.
SAI SANCTUARY: The goal was inclusive of protecting and expanding forest cover, and also to help preserve migration corridors for wildlife like tigers, birds, butterflies and elephants. A significant natural secret is the symbiotic relationship between flora and fauna that is critical for the regeneration process. Elephants are vital in reforestation and regeneration of the ecosystem, as they excrete the seeds from plants and trees that only they can consume whole. Rightly called The Architects of the Jungle, their dung contains these seeds that in time turn into forest cover. At least thirty species of trees are exclusively dependent on elephants for their reproduction for this reason.
The Malhotra’s golden belief and motto is to plant native trees that further encourage rainfall, soil moisture and rejuvenation, carbon sequestration, etc. Trees are key players in the climate game, and a forest has more chances of attracting rainfall than urban chokeholds. SAI Sanctuary has helped plant lakhs of native trees to both their area as well as districts and plantations nearby. Forests are makers of rain through a unique process called Transpiration. Tree roots suck up water from underground which is then drawn up the trunk and out the branches to the leaves where it is transpired or released as water vapour into the air. This water vapour then becomes raindrops by coalescing around the nucleus of tiny potassium salts previously emitted into the air by forest plants and trees.
Rainforests are a unique and vital asset to the ecosphere of the planet, maintaining coolness and humidity while producing and conserving lots of fresh water. The river that runs through SAI Sanctuary attracts many of the rainforest inhabitants while providing a blanket of protection that has turned it into a creche where mothers of many wildlife species come to birth and raise their young. Two species of river otters are an example – once heavily poached, even the Eurasian Otter that has not been seen in over a century now resides at SAI, their presence being a vital sign of the health and purity of the river system.
SAI also encourages protection and expansion of trees and bushes that attract pollinators like bees and the over 200+ species of rare butterflies and moths found there. Hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, snakes, amphibians, etc., many of which were thought extinct to the area, are found in SAI Sanctuary. Sandwiched between the famous Nagarhole National Park and Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, SAI has helped curb poaching and hunting tremendously since its inception.
The protection and shelter offered by SAI interweaves itself naturally with the Malhotra’s vision of caring for the wild. To continue to protect the sanctuary for perpetuity, they established the non-profit organization SAI Sanctuary Trust. Animals here know they are protected, and even the wildlife authorities have commented on how calm and peaceful the Elephants are there. SAI sanctuary is also a resourceful ally of the Forest Department and aids in rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals.
The work of the Malhotras reminds us that humanity cannot survive without healthy intact ecosystems and the ecosystem services that Nature provides freely to us all. Their hope is that SAI Sanctuary will help inspire others to take up the cause of reforesting and rewilding India and all of Planet Earth so that one day animals will be able to walk through revived forest corridors that stretch across all borders and link the world together as ONE.